I wasn't going to write about the Page 3 debate. Plenty of other brilliant female commentators have already dealt with the subject succinctly and thoroughly. Frankly to me the argument seems so overwhelmingly clear and simple that it only really needed to be explained once. But as I watched the articles on both sides of the debate pour in, read the hundreds of column inches and heard the question being contested on live radio and television, I was struck by something so extraordinary that I felt compelled to draw attention to it. I haven't heard a single argument for Page 3.
I have read the argument that the women protesting Page 3 have no right to do so because they are too educated, too "hysterical and shrill", too humourless, too bitter or rampant, even too clouded by their own jealousy to have a valid argument. All of these are examples of extreme misogyny and prejudice, (and it is worth a moment's pause to marvel at the fact that such an article, so full of outright prejudice and hatred should be published at all, when one imagines a similar piece with the issue of sex changed, say, to race) but none are actually arguments for Page 3.
I have heard the (similarly stereotypical and offensive) argument that the people who buy the Sun are from a 'different' demographic, concerned solely with basic needs like housing and putting food on the table; too busy with 'real' concerns to have the time to object to a little sexist sexual objectification with their breakfast. But this is not an argument for Page 3.
I watched with fascination as the former deputy editor of the Sun replied, stubbornly to almost every question on a Newsnight debate about the issue, that it wasn't worth arguing about at all, when there were far more important problems in the world to tackle. Even when host Emily Maitlis pointed out that this was a "cop out"; that he was avoiding the issue and that indeed, women like Harriet Harman, the MP opposite him do indeed campaign on those wider issues, he refused to be drawn. He stuck, rigidly, to the premise that the issue was simply not worthy of debate. But that is not an argument for Page 3.
I have listened to the suggestion that Page 3 is harmless, and those who don't like the idea should simply not buy the paper. I have read the similar argument that it has been there for so long that some people don't even notice it any more. I have seen the point made that most men have already seen pictures of naked women anyway and read the theories that women are objectified far worse elsewhere. But again, and sorry if this is starting to get repetitive, these are not arguments for Page 3.
I have heard several arguments about the rights of women to choose careers as glamour models, but even this, whilst a valid argument for the existence of top-shelf publications, does not begin to address the issue of whether these sexually objectifying images should appear in our most-read family newspaper. It is not an argument for Page 3.
What is interesting is that amongst the many pertinent and valid arguments that have been put forward against Page 3, some suffer from a lack of available scientific evidence to prove their direct relevance. This applies most notably to the connections drawn by MP and former equalities minister Lynne Featherstone between Page 3 and domestic violence, saying, "It's about the constant drip, drip of women being sexualised in the public space [which] has a great bearing on attitudes and domestic violence".
I have a similar problem solidly connecting the accounts collected by my Everyday Sexism Project to the debate. In the past six months alone, the project has received over 500 accounts (that's over 7% of all the experiences documented) pertaining to the groping, grabbing, touching, licking, ogling, or explicitly commenting on women's breasts. The reports strongly suggest a problem with accepted ideology in the public consciousness relating to women's breasts; who owns them, who has the right to touch them and who is entitled to judge and comment on them:
"I must've been about 14 when I was walking home from school one day and two young boys on bikes rode past me and one of them grabbed one of my breasts really hard as they cycled past. I was too shocked to do anything"
"My first experience of men commenting on my breasts was when I was 11-years-old...walking home from the corner shop after buying sweets"
"Everyday I'm walking down the street men stare at my breasts...one will yell: 'Look at the tits on that!'. That, like I'm not even a person but merely a display cabinet for large breasts."
"At my local pub a man thought it was okay to just walk up to me and grab hold of my breasts. On asking him what he thought he was doing he just replied 'they are huge'."
The accounts go on and on. No, I can't directly, scientifically link them to Page 3, any more than there is direct scientific evidence to link it to the two women a week killed in the UK as a result of intimate partner violence, the quarter of women who experience domestic violence, the hundreds of thousands of women sexually assaulted or raped each year. But if there is even a chance, a possibility, that a single ONE of these victims' attackers was influenced by the Page 3 mentality that women are objects, there for men's pleasure alone, then in the absence of a single argument for Page 3 I think we should all be signing that petition.
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